Most of us have tried to make changes to our lifestyle from time to time, whether taking up exercise, changing our diet or starting or stopping some other behaviour. It’s quite easy to stick to the new regime for the first few days or sometimes weeks, but sooner or later things usually start to slip and we fall back into our bad habits.
Hopefully some of these ideas will help you stick with these changes long enough for them to become habitual.
1 – Just pick one thing
It’s often the case that we decide to start a new behaviour after some inspiring event, something we’ve read, or something our doctor or friend has told us. When that happens, there are usually a few things we want to do all at once. Maybe we want to eat more healthily, drink more water, get more exercise, and meditate every day. That’s great, but if you try to do all of those things at once, it’s a lot less likely that you’ll actually still be doing any of them in two months’ time.
Change is hard, so don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. Focus your energy on one thing. That way, it’s easier to remember to do it, and it’s easier to have the willpower to do it when you don’t necessarily want to.
So where do you start, which one do you choose?
One option is to choose the most beneficial – try asking yourself: What is the one thing that if I started/stopped doing it today would have the most positive impact on my life/health?
Alternatively, pick the one you think will be easiest to do consistently, and start with that. Once you’ve made that one into a habit, you will have developed your willpower and self-knowledge a little, and you can pick the next change with more confidence that you will succeed.
2 – Make a 100% commitment
As an example, if you say you’re going to wake up early, as soon as your alarm clock goes off, and you’re going to do this ‘regularly’, 5 days a week, or even 99% of the time, every day when your alarm clock goes off you have to decide whether today is the day you can sleep in. All of us, from time to time, have the annoying voice in our head saying, “Hey, it’s ok to stay in bed today, you deserve it. You’ve done really well all week, why not have a bit of a rest”. If you’ve made anything less than a 100% commitment to getting up every single day, each time that little voice pops up, you’re likely to sleep in.
If you’ve made a 100% commitment to getting up every single day, there’s no decision to be made. When the voice pops into your head, you know that you just have to ignore it, push on and get up.
Why does this help? Well, in the short term it means you will be engaging in your new behaviour every day, without fail. This means it will become a habit much more quickly than if you sometimes do it and sometimes don’t. Once the new behaviour has become a habit, it’s much harder not to do it, and the thought of skipping a day won’t even occur to you, or if for some reason you really have to, it won’t be so much of an issue to return to the behaviour, as that is now the default mode.
3 – Re-commitment
Ok, so you’ve made a 100% commitment to doing your thing and one day you miss it. Maybe you were ill, maybe you’d been out the night before, whatever the reason, you have messed up on your 100% commitment. So what now? Your choice:
- Give up. I’ve failed. I should have known I wasn’t going to be able to do this every day. What a loser.
- Re-commit. Ok, I missed a day. So what? I’ve been doing this every day for 3 weeks and I’ve made great progress. From now on, I’m going to do x every day without fail.
Only one of those responses is going to help you turn your new behaviour into a habit, and if you’re prepared to recommit before you start the process, you’re much more likely to make the right choice if you ever need to (and most of us probably will at some point – that’s ok!).
4 – Keep track
It can be really helpful to keep a wall chart where you tick off each day of success. It’s great to be able to say “I’ve not missed a day of x for 2 weeks / 50 days / 100 days / 2 years / 10 years”.
5 – Think of the long term
It can be inspiring to look forward at the cumulative benefits you could reap. If you engage in your new behaviour for just 30 minutes a day, you’ll have done 182.5 hours in a year – that’s nearly two thousand hours a decade. Now, how awesome would you be if in a decade’s time you had spent nearly two thousand hours meditating, exercising, whatever? Actually take the time to spend a few minutes thinking about what that would be like and how you might be different.
6 – Get support
It’s much easier to form new habits when you have support from people around you, and much harder if you don’t, especially with dietary changes. If you can persuade your partner or friend to take up the challenge with you, you will spur each other on and the element of competition will help you both succeed.
Good luck with forming your new habit.